Debate about hypnosis has been around for ages. Some say it doesn’t work, some even say it’s evil, while others think it’s the best way to overcome a wide variety of issues. There’s debate about what hypnosis is. Some things we know: we can observe brainwaves while people are in hypnosis, and see that hypnosis has some commonalities from that standpoint with other mental states, such as daydreaming. So, can people create healing states while daydreaming? If hypnosis is a natural state that our minds move in and out of naturally throughout the day, and it seems that’s true, how is it that the state can resolve issues, and create healing? Or can it? Is it not the state itself that is helpful, but what is done in the way of technique and direction to the subconscious mind while you’re in the state? Or is it a combination of both (which is what I believe)?
It’s been awhile since we got “back to basics” on this blog, so this short series takes you through the basics about hypnosis, what it is, why you should use it, the precautions to take and the myths surrounding the therapy. I will frequenty use the terms that are closely related with hypnosis, such as hypnosis, hypnotherapy, hypnotist, hypnotism, hypnotherapist etc. Information is power, they say, and it is always good to equip yourself with plenty so that you can make informed decisions.
So, today let’s start with a couple of definitions:
Let’s look at how some authorities define hypnosis.
Medterms.com calls hypnosis “a part of healing from ancient times.” I like that, as it gives nod to the fact that 1) hypnosis is a part of healing and 2) it’s been with us for ages. However, it doesn’t really tell me what hypnosis IS.
The Sci-Tech Dictionary says it is “a presumed altered state of consciousness in which the hypnotized individual is usually more susceptible to suggestion than in his or her normal state. In this context, a suggestion is understood to be an idea or a communication carrying an idea that elicits a covert or overt response not mediated by the higher critical faculties.” This is useful, to me. Some people might balk at the word “presumed” but if you take it for it’s literal meaning, the denotation not the connotation, presumed means that you do in fact assume its existence. Also, it states that hypnosis is a state of consciousness (not an unconscious state). This definition helps us to see how hypnosis is USED, based on the qualities or characteristics of the state-that you are more suggestible while in hypnosis and therefore more open to creating (desired) responses. It also acknowledges that in hypnosis the “critical factor” of the conscious mind is at rest and so “not mediating” the suggestions coming to the unconsonsious part of the mind, where beliefs, self image, self esteem, habitual behaviors are created, housed and driven.
OK, one more…just for fun…!
The Dictionary of Psychoanalysis says, “hypnosis is the altered state of consciousness brought on by a hypnotist using various techniques (staring at an object, verbal commands, etc.).” I don’t care for this one personally, because really, ALL hypnosis is self hypnosis, and this definition implies that hypnosis must be “brought on by a hypnotist.” As a hypnotist, I am a guide to help you move into a natural state of mind, but YOU are the one creating your own hypnosis. This definition would leave self hypnosis completely out, wouldn’t it?
So, what’s MY definition of hypnosis? Let’s acknowledge that a really, truly complete definition of hypnosis, if one is even possible, would be much longer than your typical blog post (which, ah-hem, this already is!). I suppose millions of books have been written on hypnosis, and probably most of them have slightly different definitions of hypnosis. But for the sake of creating a definition that is concise, and therefore understandable, and that reflects my own personal experience of hypnosis, both as a subject and an operator, here goes:
Hypnosis is a natural, conscious state of mind that has qualities and characteristics (heightened suggestibility and a strengthened mind-body connection being notable) which, when coupled with effectively conceived & presented suggestions and techniques, (delivered either by the self, or a hypnotic operator), or when spontaneously triggered by the individual’s mind, can allow an individual’s mind-body to create emotional, psychological and physical changes.
Why do I feel that this is a helpful definition of hypnosis?
1. It acknowledges that this is a natural state. In my research I’ve run across sites that suggest that hypnosis can be drug-induced. Personally, I feel that if a state like hypnosis is achieved through drugs, that is NOT true hypnosis. I believe that a fundamental truth of hypnosis is that it is naturally occurring, and naturally induced, NOT with drugs.
2. It emphasizes that hypnosis is in fact a level of consciousness. Even DEEP levels of hypnosis are in fact, conscious states. An altered state of consciousness, to be sure, but I feel that the inclusion of this distinction helps to quell the myths that you are somehow unconscious or “knocked out” when in hypnosis.
3. It acknowledges that suggestibility and a stronger mind-body connection, the qualities of hypnosis that we harness to create positive change, are characteristics of the state that can be harnessed through the use of proven techniques or can be harnessed by the person’s own mind. I feel that this helps to explain why there is often positive value in simply being in the state itself. This is often the case with people who have a “flash of insight” that creates instant and lasting change in their lives and the fact that simply moving in and out of a hypnotic state on a regular basis will often allow a person to access and consciously process repressed memories and emotions, leading to emotional healing without the direct intervention of another individual.
4. A little bit more about the mind-body connection, which is strengthened through hypnosis. The mind-body is a holographic experience, and emotions, memories, imprints from experiences are not just stored in the mind, but are stored in the body as cellular memories, and also emotional states are somatocized, or expressed through the body. Many people are unaware of this until they become familiar and work with the hypnotic state for a period of time. An awareness of this mind-body connection allows a person to feel much more connected within themselves, to be more aware of their emotional states and to more easily shift their emotional states at will, and, I believe, leads to a lessened degree of emotional repression. I believe that people who practice hypnosis, self hypnosis or meditation on a regular basis are more likely to process emotions and events in their lives in a timely manner, leading to obvious emotional and psychological advantages.
5. In my definition I state that the use of hypnosis CAN lead to positive changes. The positive changes are not, however, a guaranteed outcome of the use of the state of hypnosis, or even any given, carefully crafted suggestion or application of technique. There are many more factors that come into play here, such as the individual’s own motivation, the presence or absence of secondary gain factors, passive agressive tendencies, the rapport, or lack of rapport, with the hypnotic operator if one is being used, and the mind’s own perception of its readiness to reveal, to a conscious level, past traumas. A skilled hypnotic operator (hypnotist or hypnotherapist) should be able to make a determination of these factors given enough time to become familiar with a person and the workings of their mind.
6. And lastly, one more take on that last point. The engagement of the qualities of hypnosis (suggestibility, etc.) can lead to positive changes. They can also lead to negative ones. Basically, suggestibility can lead to change, and that change can be perceived as good or bad. Many of us talk negatively to ourselves all the time, limiting and deepening the limitations we perceive in the world (and yes, I believe that MOST limitations are indeed a result of our perception, not in fact, reality). Also, you must realize that heightened suggestibility is triggered by a hypnotic modality, which involves being in the presence of an authority figure that possesses a doctrine–a good example is being in your doctor’s office. And please, I’m not picking on doctors here, but people in authority roles need to recognize that everything they communicate has the potential to become a suggestion to a subconscious mind. I have had a number of clients come in with conditions that we were able to release, that resulted from a careless or not-well-thought-through statement from someone in authority. I am currently remembering the insomnia client I had who was told, by a doctor, that she “would need to be on anti-anxiety medication for the rest of her life to handle her insomnia.” Insomnia she’d only had a couple of months, and that released in 1 hypnosis session. So, let’s all be careful about how we talk to OURSELVES, and be aware of when WE are in a hypnotic modality. When you’re in that situation, protect your subconscious mind from accepting unwanted suggestions by engaging the critical factor of your mind–basically, QUESTION statements from that person in authority. Do this in a constructive way, of course, not out of disdain or question of the person’s authority, just in the vein of looking for the best possible information you can get.
Well, this has turned into a book. I promise (heh, heh, ahhhh, yeah really!) that the rest of the parts of this blog series will be a bit shorter. I hope!
Blessings on your life and on those you love to all who read these words!
Next post: Facts and Myths About Hypnosis